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Go BackManc to the old school - John Digweed & the Warehouse Project.

Posted: 2/11/07 11:07

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To say Manchester has a bit of a history when it comes to dance music is a little like stating that George Bush is slightly unhinged or Ibiza's got one or two semi-decent clubs.

For many, Manchester was at the epicentre of electronic music's explosion in the 1980s, from Joy Division to acid house and beyond. Before Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway, Paul Oakenfold and Jonny Walker made their feted trip to Ibiza in 1987, there was a club in Manchester that was breaking the mould and building a mythical history that is still talked about with reverence and misty-eyed recollection. The Hacienda, opened by the late great Anthony H Wilson and Rob Grettonas part of their idealistic Factory empire in 1982, was a huge warehouse-like space that dominated the city's musical spectrum for fifteen years.  

Twenty-five years on, the spirit of the 1980s has been well and truly revived in the North West of England. Alongside the more permanent fixtures of Manchester's nightlife comes the Warehouse Project. As its name fairly obviously states, the modus operandi was simple – a cavernous space, a massive soundsystem, and a succession of stellar line-ups. Its appearance last autumn at the cavernous old Strangeways Brewery cast a shadow over the city, the irony of its promotion team borne from a reshuffle at Sankeys, now putting the very club they left under stiff competition. And its hugely successful 12-week run in the winter of 2006 laid the foundations for what many hoped would be a return in 2007. This year, the action's moved into the heart of the city, and a few refinements made. The roster of guests is as monolithic as before, but it's now a one room affair, though the word 'room' has never really been as inappropriate. Nestled behind Piccadilly Station, it's a semi-underground car park that now contains proceedings, and it must qualify as housing the biggest backstage area of any 'club' in the UK. The structure, split straight down the middle, (booth half way down, clubbers in front, schmoozers behind) is spartan, but functional. When the focus is squarely on the music, the presence of well-stocked bars, seats, toilets and a food stall (even the most ardent clubber needs their chips and gravy – this is the North) are all a sideshow when the Funktion One is carrying the sounds of Mathew Jonson's Cobblestone Jazz.

The Canadians (the trio is completed by countrymen Daneul Tate and Tyger Dhula) are a rare breed in today's laptop-flavoured 'live' arena. With a setup that effectively mimics their studio, (think Daneul on live keys, Tyger on percussion and Mathew on basslines, and mixing the ensemble into its shifting compositions), their glorious real-time improvisation of their genre-bending music nods heavily to latest album 23 Seconds, with 2006 classic Dump Truck working the crowd into a swaying wave of head-bobbing delight.

But tonight, it's one of the UK's longest enduring names that will be commanding most attention. John Digweed, Bedrock's own main man, brings his Transitions Album tour to Manchester. Now in its third iteration, his mix series, on stalwart imprint Renaissance, has been part of a recent welcome return to form, a mile from the lazy 'prog' epithets of years gone by, with his sets as astute mix of house, techno, minimal - a melting pot of driving, brooding music. It's also the second of an impressive five Essential Mixes that will beam the Warehouse Project's unique atmosphere onto nation's airwaves via Radio 1. And fittingly, this evening he's weaving a mesmerising tableau of hypnotic music that's harking back to the glory years of the late 90s.  

While Digweed churns out the chugging beats, backstage, James Holden sits, sipping champagne and munching chips from a polystyrene container. And who said superstar DJs aren't in touch with reality? Clearly in Holden's world, despite the champagne, his rider like his unassuming character, isn't exactly outlandish, the polar opposite of his music. His set follows on from Bedrock's finest perfectly, an intriguing mix of breathtaking soundscapes bringing a haunting finale to the evening's fare. Already well into its twelve-week run (they return for a one-off weekend on New Year's Eve and Day), it's a new and improved Warehouse Project that continues to make its mark on Manchester's clubland. Fitting that, over two decades later, in a way, some things have changed little, and a new chapter in the North West's rich musical tapestry is being written that may at last be fit to take up the mantle of its mythical predecessors. In 2007, warehouses may just be the new superclubs.

Words by Guy Horsnby